Sevier County

Located in East Tennessee, Sevier County has the distinction of having three birthdays: in 1785 under the State of Franklin, in 1794 under the Southwest Territory, and in 1796 under the State of Tennessee. Sevierville, the county seat, and the county were named in honor of John Sevier. The land area of 592.3 square miles has a varied topography which consists of fertile lowlands along the French Broad and Little Pigeon Rivers, the hilly portion drained by the Forks of Little Pigeon River, and the majestic peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains, including Clingman’s Dome, the highest mountain peak in Tennessee.

The two branches of the Great Indian War Path which crossed the county became the chief migratory route for the early settlers in the 1780s. The signing of the Dumplin Treaty at Major Hugh Henry’s Station in 1785 opened the area south of the French Broad for settlement.

The first court of Sevier County, State of Franklin, was held at Samuel Newell’s Station on Boyds Creek in March 1785. The first court of Sevier County, Southwest Territory, was held at the home of Isaac Thomas on November 8, 1794. Magistrates present were Samuel Newell, Joseph Willson, Joshua Gist, Peter Bryant, Joseph Vance, and Andrew Evans. Absent were Mordecai Lewis and Robert Pollock. On January 11, 1796, Spencer Clack, John Clack, Samuel Wear, Peter Bryant, and Thomas Buckingham were sent to help prepare a state constitution at the convention in Knoxville. John Clack was elected to the Senate and Spencer Clack and Samuel Wear to the House of Representatives.

Surveyors who prepared the plats for the State of Tennessee to issue land grants from 1807 to 1894 included Robert Wear, Thomas Price, Mark Moore, Guilford Cannon, Daniel Kerr, John Mullendore, G. W. Layman, Wellington McMahan, John A. Trotter, G. W. J. Hill, and Jesse Atchley.

Sevierville, originally the Forks of Little Pigeon community settled by the Isaac Thomas, Spencer Clack, and James McMahon families in the 1780s, became the county seat in 1795. The present courthouse, noted for its majestic tower, was built in 1896. Incorporated in 1901 with A. M. Paine as mayor, Sevierville had 7,178 residents in 1990.

Pigeon Forge, originally the Fanshiers community, was settled by the Wear, Fancher, and Lovelady families in the 1780s. The Pigeon Forge post office opened in 1841 with William K. Love as postmaster. Incorporated in 1961 with Xan Davenport as mayor, the city had a population of 3,027 in 1990.

Gatlinburg, originally the White Oak Flats community settled by the Richard Reagan and Martha Ogle families ca. 1806, was the name given to the post office in Radford Gatlin’s store in 1856. Incorporated in 1945 with Dick Whaley as mayor, the city had a population of 3,417 in 1990.

Pittman Center, named for Reverend Eli Pittman of Elmira, New York, was established by Reverend E. O. Burnett as a Methodist settlement school and health center in 1921 and closed with the retirement of Dr. Robert F. Thomas in 1964. The Pittman Center community, incorporated in 1974 with Conley Huskey as mayor, had a population of 478 in 1990.

Manufacturing in the county before the Civil War included cottage industries, the Sevierville Pottery, mills, the bloomery forge at Pigeon Forge established by Isaac Love in 1817, and Sweden furnace. From the 1870s to the 1920s flatboat transportation from Sevierville to the steamboats on the French Broad River increased trade. The construction of the Knoxville, Sevierville, and Eastern Railroad (KS&E) and the extension to McCookville in 1920 enhanced manufacturing. The railroad ceased operation in 1961.

The logging industry flourished from 1900 to 1930 in the Great Smoky Mountains. The establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1930 and the construction of Highway 441 through the center of the valley in the 1950s opened the area for the development of tourism.

In 1996 the county had a population of 51,043, and the labor force was predominantly employed in trade and finance due to the large number of retail establishments associated with the tourism industry. Manufacturing is the second largest industry.

Nancy Academy (1811-97) and Murphy College (1892-1936) were historic educational institutions. In 1996 Sevier County had three high schools, four middle schools, one intermediate school, nine elementary schools, and a vocational center. A branch of Walters State Community College is in Sevierville. The Sevier County Library, founded by Fred P. Rawlings, opened in 1920 in the Masonic Temple.

Sevierville’s African Americans have contributed to Tennessee history. Many brick buildings in Sevierville today attest to the skill of brick making, masonry, and carpentry of Isaac Dockery, Samuel Coleman, the P. Witt McMahan family, and S. H. Burden and son. The furniture of Lewis Buckner is a prized possession. Mary Bond McMahan and James Chandler were educators.

Preston B. Love published the first newspaper, the Enterprise, in 1882. Subsequent newspapers include the Republican, Sevier County Republican, Star, Vindicator, Volunteer, Sevier County Republican and Sevier County Record, Gatlinburg Press, News-Record, and Mountain Press. The Bank of Sevierville opened in 1888.

Ray L. Reagan, the elected county judge from 1956 until his death in 1978, led the campaign to attract new industry to broaden the county’s agricultural and tourist-oriented economy. He was instrumental in the remodeling of the courthouse and the development of the Sevier County Industrial Park, the Sevier County Medical Center, and the Pigeon Forge-Gatlinburg Airport. Dollywood, located in Pigeon Forge, is the largest amusement park in Tennessee.

Between 1990 and 2000 Sevier County grew by 39 percent to a total population of 71,170.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Sevier County
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 17, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018